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How to "Missionize" Your Events

In the final episode of The Apprentice last year, you saw a perfect example of how not to raise money. In case you missed it, the two finalists each received a designated nonprofit to raise money for.

The runner-up, Rebecca, raised nothing for her cause—the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Rebecca's task was to put on the Yahoo! All-Star Comedy Benefit. She lined up comedians, served Yahoo-tinis, and paid a lot of attention to conveying the Yahoo! brand and entertaining her guests (Yahoo! VIPs).

When guests left the comedy show, they received goody bags with pamphlets on the foundation and donation envelopes. None of the guests, however, sent in the envelope with a donation. Rebecca defended herself by saying Yahoo! didn't want any hard sales approach during the event. As we all know, this kind of asking is unpleasant and generally unwelcome.

But fundraising doesn't have to require strong-arming. People are inherently generous if we know how to tap into that generosity. The best way is by inspiring people about your organization's mission. Fundraising should be permission based.

For this fundraiser—just as for an auction, run, golf tournament, or other special event—insert a ten-minute element in the program that gives people a lasting impression of the real work of the organization. The nonprofits we work with say this "missionizing" of their events has a direct effect on the success of their fundraisers.

At this Apprentice event, as people gathered to sit down for the comedy show, a huge opportunity was missed by not telling the attendees about the wonderful work of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and inserting a powerful three-minute talk from the director of the foundation (the "visionary leader") who could tell people about the foundation's mission, what it has already accomplished, and the gaps that remain. This talk would be followed by a live testimonial from a person whose life has been changed by this wonderful foundation or a seven-minute video that moves people to tears.

To conclude the mission-based element, the emcee could have said, "We know most of you came tonight for a wonderful evening of fun and a great show. Perhaps now you find yourself more interested in our work. Maybe you'd even like to come and visit us in person. Please leave your name (fill out a card, tell your table host) so we can be in touch with you."

After the event, staff at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation would be able to call each person who left a card and invite them to learn more about the organization's mission and work by coming to a one-hour introductory event and tour. At Raising More Money, we call these Point of Entry Events. They are the key to bringing in new donors to an organization.

Through this type of permission-based and mission-focused cultivation, donors feel more connected to the organization, so when they are finally asked for money, they are ready and it feels natural.

Granted, this idea of cultivation and long-term relationships may be a little advanced for a reality TV show putting on a quick fundraising event with little lead time. But we can almost guarantee that using a mission-based approach rather than trying to entertain people out of their money would have made all the difference in the bottom line.

Terry Axelrod, Raising More Money
© 2006, Raising More Money

Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Raising More Money, a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 2,000 nonprofits to build sustainable funding from individual donors. For more information, go to
Topics: Fundraising